DANNY MULHERN – Reflections On A Dead Sea
Reviewed by Dave Tucker.
Undercover composer and multi-instrumentalist Danny Mulhern, creates moods and carves aural movements from behind the scenes of film and television favourites. Assembling soundtracks from a sonic diorama, Mulhern is best known for his multi layered compositions establishing soundscapes encompassing live instrumentation, beats and ambience through quaint ensembles and the vision of a talented visionary. His work spans the criminal dossiers of ‘Silent Witness’ to sparse explorations of native observation, ‘The Natural World’ on the acclaimed BBC nature channel. Whether it is twisting tense timelines into spine chilling reality or capturing the quiver of a shifting migration, Mulhern builds his sensory imagination by scattering strings and silent stabs to entice surrounding elements into cleverly placed perfection.
Taking a raw and topical lens on reality, his latest work has centred on the tragic global refugee crisis, as featured in Stuart Gatt’s short film ‘The Dead Sea’. This heartfelt unveiling of how the world has gone wrong led to the very personally affected album ‘Reflections on a Dead Sea’, featuring the cinematically cool London Contemporary Orchestra. Founded in 2008 by choral scholar Hugh Brunt and violinist Robert Ames, LCO has collaborated with the likes of Imogen Heap, Actress and Beck whilst adding the choir arrangements to Radiohead’s moving epic ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’. For me, this was my first introduction to the beauty and expansive softness of LCO, taking the vocal achings of Thom Yorke to beautiful new coves of calmness, edgy and yet strangely comforting. The LCO’s interpretation of Jonny Greenwood’s orchestration created the rhythmic drive of ‘Burn The Witch’, while their work on ‘Daydreaming’ was hailed by their front man as “the sound of the album”. As a fan of such classically blended alternative tunes from the likes of Craig Armstrong (‘This Love’) and the sultry strings of Mc Almont and Butler, I was mad keen to submerge myself further into this unknown territory.
I remember first dipping my innocent ears into the far too monumental caverns of classical catalogue during my time at the family jewel of music stores Marbecks, back in the nineties. As a new staff member, we all had to ‘do time’ in the classical store alongside the late musical maestro and Marbecks founder, Murray Marbeck. Amongst the mighty piles of not so compact discs, I was introduced to the melancholy beauty of baroque, in particular Albinoni, developing a soft yearning for the stripped back clarity of classical compositions, a new and yet satisfying experience. It was from this musical apprenticeship that I discovered the vast work of American string quartet, the Kronos Quartet, and in particular their memorable take on Gorecki’s String Quartets 1 and 2. This slow building piece of timeless sorrow emerged with aching connection and held me in its soft tension throughout. Upon my first listen to ‘Reflections on a Dead Sea’, these gentle murmurings re-emerged amongst awakenings of inner beckoning, whispering to me and yet again softly introducing a subtle sincerity in sound once again.
‘Ganfuda’, co-written by LCO member and Radiohead’s secret weapon Oliver Coates, signals a war torn lament to the displacement of Libya. This saddened symphony captures the hollowness of lost hope and despair, flicking dust from deserted streets into my tearful eyes. ‘Captive’ submerges the soul into the emotional displacement felt beneath the numb hollow space of emptiness. Captured by a sparse black and white partially animated video (created by visual artist Antony Barkworth-Knight), this creeping track crawls between stark images and eerie shadows to depict the darkness and fear of abandonment. ‘Libya’ unfolds from the hidden trenches of a bewildered observation, taking me into a powerful personal reflection, upon which strength pours from spine tingling glimmers of hope. Each track on ‘Reflections’ allows Mulhern to guide reactions and feelings into an important place of private prodding, subtlety misplacing common structures and searing above sadness.
My eyes remained closed throughout my first and second listen, allowing the images woven in the compositions to take hold, opening my heart and soul to far away new feelings, whilst expanding my being beyond beats and catchy choruses of late. ‘Reflections on a Dead Sea’, deserves personal attention, alone in contemplation, yet connected in empathetic uncertainty. Powerful and beauty united.